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TOEFL Tuesday: Vocabulary – Make It Up!

This week, I’m talking about some phrasal verbs. I know how many students hate phrasal verbs, and I know how hard they are to learn—especially when they include common English words. And this Tuesday, the focus is on two very common words: “make” and “up.”


“To make up” has several meaning in English. You probably know one or two, but make sure you see all three meanings that I explain this week!

A note on grammar: because “up” is technically an adverb in this phrase, “make up” is separable. “Make up something” and “make something up” are both possible. This is a bigger grammar topic I will talk about in a later video!

“Make up” Meaning 1: Invent

This is probably the best known meaning of “make up,” and it’s an important one for studying the TOEFL, because you’ll probably hear a teacher (like me!) saying it. “Make up” can mean “invent,” or “create.” Specifically, it means invent a story. Note that it is not used for inventing real-world objects.

For example, when you are stuck thinking about an example for the first speaking task on your TOEFL, just make up a story! It doesn’t need to be true. But on the other hand, Thomas Edison didn’t “make up” the light bulb: he invented it. So “invent” has a more general meaning than “make up.”

“Make up” Meaning 2: Be the parts of

Like the first meaning above, this meaning is closely connected to the meaning of the word “make” alone, and even more similar to the phrase “made of.”

  • “I made a chair.” (I created it.)
  • “The chair is made of wood.” (It’s not a metal chair; it’s a wood chair)
  • “Twenty different pieces of wood make up the back of the chair.” (The back of the chair has twenty parts.)

This meaning of “make up” is similar to “comprise,” which is another good TOEFL word that you don’t hear often in conversation but you may see in the reading section of your test. When we consider a group of things as one larger object, we can say the larger object is “made up of” those smaller parts. For example, the U.S. is made up of 50 states.

“Make up” Meaning 3: Complete a Test or Project Late

This meaning is especially important for the TOEFL, and it’s the least common of the three in today’s lesson! Imagine you have a final exam for a class on Friday. But on that same Friday, you have to go to a wedding. What will you do?

You’ll probably skip the exam and go to the wedding—if your professor allows you to. 🙂 But then, you still need to take the exam. You can’t just skip it forever! So if you complete the test after the scheduled Friday, you are “making up the test.”

This meaning of “make up” is pretty specific. We generally don’t use it for work or personal responsibilities; it’s almost always about school. And that’s why it’s so good for the TOEFL! It’s especially likely to show up in the 5th speaking task, about a student’s problem that you hear. After all, you only have to make up a test if there is a schedule problem.


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